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Sunday, September 6, 2009

What makes us moan during SEX?

A recent item in the New York Times science section got me thinking about the sounds we make during sex. The piece opens with the claim that other primates sexual vocalizations are more complicated than humans. As it turns out, that’s not true. Or at least there’s no way for us to know if it’s true or not, because practically no one has studied human sex sounds.

In the one relatively thorough review of the subject, Dr. Roy Levin, a biomedical scientist and sexologist suggests that researchers may have ignored human sex sounds because they believe them to be a by-product of the important action and unworthy of close study. Contrary to this, Levin argues that there may be many reasons we make the sounds we make, including:

- Conveying information to our partner about our arousal levels, what we like, and what we don’t
- Increasing our sexual arousal levels and/or that of our partner(s)
- Enhancing the experience of pleasure (referred to as “hedonic amplification”, which is also a great name for a band)
- Facilitating other arousal systems

In one of the only other studies to include a discussion of human sex sounds (evocatively titled “On the Function of Groaning and Hyperventilation During Sexual Intercourse: Intensification of Sexual Experience by Altering Brain Metabolism through Hypocapnia”) researchers hypothesize a relationship between the sounds we make and our breathing, and how the two may add to feelings of euphoria during sexual interactions.

Apparently Kinsey mentions sex sounds briefly in his volume on female sexuality but erroneously suggests that sounds during orgasm cannot be controlled (something disproven in a laboratory study where, knowing there were a team of grad students just behind the glass, female participants managed to make no noise during arousal and orgasm).

And that’s pretty much all we know. I tend to think that any of Levin’s reasons might be true, but it’s probably also likely that we make noises because we’re exerting ourselves. It’s hard not to think about sex sounds watching Wimbledon or even going to the gym some days. I do wonder though if there is a relationship between certain kinds of physical activity and the sounds we make. For example some people note the sounds of childbirth as being at times similar to those of sex.

I’ll leave the last word to you. Have a look at the poll beside this post and raise your voice by letting us know why you think you make the sounds you make (if you make them at all).

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